Several years ago my wife, Kathleen, had a cataract removed from her left eye. As planned, she went back to the surgeon’s office a week later. He examined the eye and told her that everything was as it should be. “It’s wonderful what you doctors can do these days,” she said to him. “I want to thank you very much for this service.”
There was a moment of silence, she says, as if he didn’t quite know what to say. Then, with a smile, he replied, “Well, that’s what we are here to do.” He held the smile but said nothing further. Kathleen told me it seemed awkward for both of them.
When she told me about this exchange I remembered that a few weeks earlier I had struggled with a complicated computer problem. It was a matter of getting the modem and router to talk to each other and then relay their message to the computer. Three different companies were involved. I spent the equivalent of one whole day working with technicians by telephone.
One of them worked faithfully for a long period of time before admitting defeat and referring me to another service. I acknowledged his patient effort and thanked him, which brought a reply I wasn’t expecting. He said, “I can answer a thousand calls and not hear a word like that.”
Is it possible that the wonders of modern technology, which bless us in all sorts of ways, at the same time make us less thankful for these blessings?
The Bible has a great deal more to say to us about thanking God than it does about thanking our fellows. Unless, that is, the idea is subsumed in the Second Commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, or in Jesus’ instruction to treat others as we want to be treated.
And who can forget St. Luke’s story (17:11-19) of ten lepers who cried out to Jesus from a distance for healing? He sent them to the priests, ostensibly to be cleared for entrance back into society. Luke tells us, “as they went, they were cleansed,” and then is quick to report Jesus’ perplexity that, of the ten, only one returned and “threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” And he was a foreigner to God’s chosen people.
Little words of thankfulness dropped here and there add color and warmth to life. When they are withheld or neglected life can be gray or even painful. Shakespeare’s King Lear laments the ingratitude of his daughters in these words: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” And in As You Like It Shakespeare writes, “Blow, blow, thou winter wind, / Thou art not so unkind / As man’s ingratitude.”
While it’s good to express thanks to a surgeon or computer technician, the best place to release words of appreciation is in the home where relationships can be oiled by such words rather than be left to creak painfully through the days.
Image credit: Marco Verch Professional Photographer